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Published: September 19th 2019
Today was another 8:30am pickup from our villa in Bucine for our visit to the hilltop towns of Siena and San Gimignano. Both have a lot of buildings made of red brick, a characteristic of medieval (rather than Renaissance) towns.
Siena is a university town with a university hospital doing a lot of oncology research. The town was built on the Via Cassia, the second oldest Roman road built by the Cassius.
As we were driving into the city centre, we saw it was market day so we stopped for an hour to have a coffee, look at the Basilica Cateriniana di San Dominico and then mooch around the markets for a while. These were local markets, so as well as the usual tourist souvenir junk, they had everything for the locals like underwear, clothes, jeans, shoes, dressmaking cottons and hardware items. There were also a few leather stalls with good quality leather bags and other items at very reasonable prices.
After this stop, we drove the rest of the way into the city centre of Siena, where Silvia threaded our minivan along narrow streets filled with tourists. We hopped out at the top, near the Basilica, so
that we could wind our way downhill to the agreed meeting spot in the Piazza Campo at 1:30pm.
The streets are all lined with flagstones and buildings of interesting architectural style.
Siena is divided into 16 districts, each very patriotic and with their own colours and insignias. Flags and banners line the streets in that district’s colours and motifs.
Twice a year (in July and August) a horse race called the Palio is held in the Campo and riders from each district compete to represent their district and hopefully win the race. It is a huge event and rivalry between the districts is fierce. Horses and riders train all the year in similar conditions (course size, incline, no saddles, etc.) for the honour of representing their district.
The Campo itself is round(ish), with the outside perimeter slightly sloping to the middle and the middle more level (like a cycle track). Tufa is laid around the outside to make a track for the horses to run on and the crowd fills the middle of the Campo and hangs out of the windows of the buildings surrounding the Campo.
As the crowds were getting thicker, we opted
for an early lunch at the Bar il Palio in the Piazza Campo, where we had a great view across the Campo. Lunch for me was Lasagne al Forno (beef lasagne) with a side dish of cooked spinach. Green vegetables have been in very short supply at this time of year as Italian food is very regional and season-based.
We all met up at the agreed spot and time and headed off again. About 20 minutes into the journey, we stopped at the pretty town of Monteriggioni. Once again, this is another walled hilltop fortress town with its strategic position giving great views of the surrounding countryside. The stop here was brief, just for a quick walk and look around, and then we were off again for San Gimignano.
As in Siena, Silvia drove us through busy narrow streets, up to the top where the Cathedral was, so that we could walk downhill to the gate where we were to meet up later.
The Basilica had very ornate carvings and coloured mosaics at the main entrance, with a more discrete entrance at the Baptistry side. We wound our way down and through the Piazza, looking at shops
and the architecture of the medieval buildings along the route before reconvening at the bottom gate for our trip back to the villa.
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